Korea as bargaining chip for USA trade talks

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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un arrived in Beijing on Tuesday morning for a four-day visit at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping, the Chinese government has confirmed.

The North Korean leader is accompanied by his wife Ri Sol Ju, as well as senior officials including negotiator Kim Yong Chol and Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho. The North's state media Rodong Sinmun reported Tuesday that Kim left for China for a four-day visit.

The second day of trade negotiations coincided with an unannounced visit to Beijing by Kim for talks with Xi, amid speculation of a second meeting between Kim and Trump.

During his first meeting with Xi previous year in March, which was also his first overseas trip since assuming the mantle of leadership in North Korea in December 2011 after his father Kim Jong Il's death, the Chinese president emphasized the importance of "high-level exchanges" between the two countries. Kim is also expected to meet Moon again soon, possibly in Seoul. "The US is very clear about China's position", he said, reaffirming China's commitment to reach a trade deal with US benefitting both the countries.

The trip marked a further break with past practice in that it was announced in advance of Mr Kim's arrival, a possible sign of growing confidence on the part of North Korea and China, Pyongyang's most important trading partner and a key buffer against pressure from Washington.

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Harry J. Kazianis, Director of Defense Studies at USA based Center for the National Interest, said Kim's overtures to China suggest he "is eager to remind the Trump administration that he does have diplomatic and economic options besides what Washington and Seoul can offer", adding that his New Year's Day speech may suggest a "veiled threat to move closer to Beijing". Since then, "North Korea has refused to engage in working-level talks with the U.S.", NPR has reported.

While no details were released about an agenda in China, the North Korean leader has been seeking relief from sanctions, a peace declaration to formally end the 1950-1953 Korean War and more investment.

These include more Chinese purchases of U.S. goods and services to reduce a yawning trade gap, increased access to China's markets, stronger protection of intellectual property and a reduction in Beijing's subsidies.

"Kim will take advantage of the trade and other disputes between the USA and China, he is also going to take advantage of Trump's domestic troubles and squeeze compromise from Trump in the next meeting". However China's state-run Global Times newspaper appeared to reveal the birth year of the North Korean leader in a tweet.

South Korea's Blue House on Tuesday confirmed that it has been notified by both North Korea and China ahead of the Kim's Beijing visit and has been "sharing information with both countries".

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This is the first time the two sides have met face to face since President Donald Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping agreed to a tariff truce during a meeting in Argentina on December 1.

Washington is pressing the North to offer up a detailed accounting of its nuclear arsenal, while Pyongyang says it has already done enough and it is time for the U.S. to ease harsh worldwide sanctions that hold back the North Korean economy. "Kim is eager to remind the Trump administration that he does have diplomatic and economic options besides what Washington and Seoul can offer", Harry J. Kazianis, Director of Defence Studies at US -based Centre for the National Interest said in an e-mailed statement.

Washington and Pyongyang seemed close to war at points during 2017, as the North staged a series of increasingly powerful weapons tests that got it tantalisingly close to its nuclear goal of one day targeting with pinpoint accuracy anywhere on the United States mainland. "Kim will coordinate his US policy with Xi before talking to Trump, like he did before the June 2018 summit".

Kim's visit comes as a US delegation opened a second day of talks with Chinese counterparts in Beijing aimed at ending the trade war between the world's two largest economies. "The US is very clear about China's stance".

Ties between China and North Korea, which had frayed as Pyongyang stepped up its missile and nuclear tests up to late 2017, warmed over the past year as Kim engaged with China, South Korea and the United States.

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